Saturday, October 11, 2014

Is student test performance impaired by distracting electronic devices?

After listening to a lecture, third-year students at the Harvard School of Dental Medicine were surveyed about distractions by electronic devices and given a 12-question quiz. Although 65% of the students admitted to having been distracted by emails, Facebook, and/or texting during the lecture, distracted students had an average score of 9.85 correct compared to 10.444 students who said they weren't distracted. The difference was not significant, p = 0.652.

In their conclusion they authors said, "Those who were distracted during the lecture performed similarly in the post-lecture test to the non-distracted group."

The full text of the paper is available online. As an exercise, you may want to take a look at the paper and critique it yourself before reading my review. It will only take you a few minutes.

As you consider any research paper, you should ask yourself a number of questions such as are the journal and authors credible, were the methods appropriate, were there enough subjects, were the conclusions supported by the data, and do I believe the study?

Of course, many more questions could be included. Google "how to critique an article," and you will find numerous lengthy treatises on the subject.

The paper appears in PeerJ, a fairly new open access journal with a different format. Authors have to pay to have papers published, but they can opt for a reasonably priced plan for lifetime memberships with variable numbers of papers included.

It’s too new to have an impact factor but stats on the website state that the paper has had over 2,700 views and been downloaded 76 times.

The authors are from Harvard so they must be credible.

The study is described as quasi-experimental, meaning not randomized. That is not necessarily bad especially because it is said to be a pilot study too.

The main problem with the paper is that it was underpowered to detect a difference because there were only 26 subjects, 17 distracted and 9 not. The null hypothesis—that distractions do not affect test scores—was accepted as true, which is called a "Type II" error by statisticians.

Other issues with the paper are that distracting behaviors may have been underreported by the students, the test questions may have been too easy, and the two groups may have differed in their baseline knowledge of the material. Harvard dental students may not be representative of students or people in general. A couple of my colleagues on Twitter suggested that the lecture could have been either so good, or so bad, that paying total attention was unnecessary. PeerJ has a 70% acceptance rate for submissions.

Did I mention that one of the two authors of the paper is an "Academic Editor" for the journal?

Bottom line: This paper should not convince you that distractions by electronic devices are not harmful to learners.


frankbill said...

At least they were given a test. Unlike what Yale does. as the link says In the first two years, there are no grades and there is no class ranking.

putrescine said...

I'm sure there will be more online journals like PeerJ coming into existence in the next decade. Its all about quantity and not quality when it comes to young medical students and residents trying to pad their CV's with a laundry list of publications so that they can get into their choice residencies and fellowships.

I'm waiting for the day when I see people including citations of their wikipedia articles on their CV. I've just barely entered surgical practice, and i'm part of the earliest member of generation Y. More of this fun stuff to come from our generation in the future.

Skeptical Scalpel said...

Frankbill, Yale has not given out grades for many years. If someone from there applies to your residency program, the dean's letter says basically that you should be satisfied with the knowledge that the applicant went there.

Putrescine, I agree. Journals are proliferating like rabbits. There are at least 25 journals devoted to critical care alone. No one could possibly read them all. It reminds my of my recent post "A paper of mine was published. Did anyone read it?"

frankbill said...

Since I am a non medical person. I may look at things different then others on here. Also have long term un DX medical problem most likely due to improper testing. Or Dr not being able to look out side the box.

What I am finding is for what ever reason Dr are just not keeping up with new research. Something that 50 years ago was looked at as a cause of hypertension being a rare disease is still be look at as rare. Current research says that up to 30% with hypertension have this disease. Yet at least at Dartmouth they are still teaching A Dr may never see this disease.

This disease is Hyperaldosteronism 50% of the time it is cured with surgery and an other 30% much be much improved. It doesn't take Much searching to find information on this. A pubmed search brings up 8000 hits. So no shortage of information about it.

So as skeptical scalpel "A paper of mine was published. Did anyone read it?" Answer is guess not.

Skeptical Scalpel said...

I agree, Thanks.

frankbill said...

Dr Grim who runs the yahoo group wanted to test Yale Medical Students On a B/P testing program was developed at UCLA and INDY. Was told our students are so good they do not need to be tested. He said it scared the hell out of him.

Skeptical Scalpel said...

Ha. I once had a Yale student apply to my surgical residency program before the Internet matured. I received a postcard asking for information about the program. I was unable to sent the student anything because he or she neglected to provide a name or address.

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